Date Nut Spice Bread
I had been dreaming about this bread since the moment I saw Ina Garten mix it up on one of her shows. Quick breads are always a favorite of mine, but combining cold-weather spices with dates, pecans and orange? That was more than a potential favorite; that was heaven. I quickly bookmarked the recipe and plotted for a time to make it. Well, busy minds tend to forget things like the most delicious-looking bread ever. It wasn’t until a few months later when I got Ina’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics book and saw that the bread was in there that my infatuation with it began to swell again. And now, finally, ANOTHER month or so later, I have made the bread. Hallelujah! Being a good Pittsburgh girl, I know the Heinz ketchup mantra of “good things come to those who wait” but man oh man, this is better than good, this is indeed heavenly.
The episode that this bread was featured on was one in which Ina puts together a breakfast basket for a friend that included this bread, the orange cream cheese, some homemade marmalade, and a few other things. Feeling fully inspired, I am using this bread as the centerpiece of some holiday gift baskets I am planning on making. While the cream cheese spread is fantastic (read: FANTASTIC!) and you should definitely not skip it, I am leery about putting it in baskets due to the lack of refrigeration factor. No sicknesses on my watch! So right now I am planning to put together a basket with this bread, a jar of preserves from a local orchard, a nice mug (or two, depending on who the basket is going to), a package of biscotti with complementary flavors, and some good chocolate.
I’m off to eat another piece of the bread and hum a few Christmas carols on the way!
Date Nut Spice Bread
2 cups coarsely chopped dates (10 ounces pitted)
1/3 cup Cointreau or Triple Sec
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (2 oranges)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3 oranges)
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans (3 ounces)
For the Cream Cheese Spread:
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of an 8½ x 4½ x 2½-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pan.
2. Combine the dates and Cointreau in a small bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with teh paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. With the mixer still on low, add the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice to the creamed mixture, beating only until combined. By hand, stir in the dates with their liquid, and the pecans.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
5. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese, sugar, and orange zest on medium speed until just combined.
6. Slice the bread and serve with the orange cream cheese on the side for spreading.